By Per Peterson
The District 2904 School Board on Monday approved the location of a pair of solar arrays — one for Tracy Area High School and one for Tracy Area Elementary School.
The location for the elementary school is in an alfalfa field directly to the east of the soccer field by the Little Panther’s Den. The future home of the solar panels for the high school will be the greenspace directly to the west of the school.
There were two possible locations for the solar array at the high school — one to the west and another across the driveway to the parking lot to the northwest of the school.
The latter, Anderson said, could sometime in the future be turned into a soccer field. The current field is on the other side of the tennis courts and has no parking, other than on the shoulder of Pine Street.
“We got the parking and everything — instead of parking on the road, you could have people parking in the parking lot,” he said.
School board member Sheila Siebenahler-Holland said placing the solar array directly to the west of the school could prohibit the district from adding onto the school in the future. She asked if they can be moved if the school did, indeed, add on.
They could be moved “at our expense,” board member Matt Surprenant said.
Anderson said the buildings and grounds committee, which determined where to put the solar array for the high school, was not in favor of installing fencing around either solar arrays at this time.
Anderson said there will be no lawn maintenance underneath the solar panels.
Past meetings have included discussion about possible flooding in the area to the west of the school, but the company installing the array wasn’t concerned about flooding.
“It’s not going to get deep enough to come up to the panels,” said Surprenant.
The board approved the locations with board chairman Rod Benson, Jay Fultz, Siebenahler-Holland, Surprenant, Nikki Swanson and Jody Bauer voting for the placement of the solar arrays. Board member Ben Ludeman cast the lone dissenting vote.
Time is of the essence for the completion of the women’s restroom nearest to the gymnasium at Tracy Area High School.
TAHS Supt. Chad Anderson told the board at Monday night’s meeting that he is hopeful the project is completed by Sept. 3 — the day of the Miss Tracy contest.
The $92,000 project has taken on a life of its own since its origin. Anderson has told the board how the project had many unknowns to begin with. After the problem that was leading to the sewer smell was diagnosed (broken and deteriorated pipes in the walls and floor), it had been determined that the entire cement floor had to be jackhammered out to remove and replace old, cast-iron pipes. As the cost of the project grew, so, too, has the timeline.
“The next step will be for the plumbers to come in and put in the toilets and the faucets, hook up the water,” Anderson said. “Then we just have the stalls. Delivery is going to be nip-and-tuck for those before Miss Tracy.”
The new bathroom will include new flooring, new walls, and new sinks, countertop, toilets, stalls and air dryers. The faucets and toilets should be installed by Thursday of this week.
Benson spoke on behalf of other board members in expressing some concern about the wall tiling and how they seem uneven in some places.
“I don’t know if that’s the tile design or the wall behind it,” he said. “Maybe it needs to be talked about. Outside of that, it looks phenomenal.”
The LED lighting project at the school has been delayed for weeks, as local workers await the arrival of the product from a company in California. Anderson said the lights — to be installed in the hallways and cafeteria — should be in by Friday, so the project can be finished by the first day of school.
All the old classroom lights have already been replaced.
TAHS Principal Kathy Vondracek said she is very pleased with the school’s test results this year and highlighted the seventh grade.
“As sixth-graders, their percentage of proficiency was 46.9, so to go from 46.9 to 54.4, that’s pretty good,” she said. “I really felt like the kids had excellent growth, and to me that’s what it’s about.”
Vondracek also informed the board about a change in how the first week of school will be set up for seventh-graders. Because these students are new to the school, she said it takes them time to adapt and said an optimal situation for them would be to take the focus off of academics so they have time to adjust to their new surroundings.
“They have to adjust to a new building, a new schedule, and kids really don’t soak up what they learn academically because they’re so focused on just finding their way and getting to know people,” she said. “We’re going to treat those (first) four days not as making academic ground, but building relationships and treating them more like orientation days, where we talk a lot of processes and responsibilities, how to get help if they need it.”
Vondracek said the students can then hit the ground running academically the week of Sept. 11.
Tracy Area Elementary School Principal Michael Munson reported on the school’s new playground set that is complete, with the exception of the poured surface. The playground, paid for by fundraising and a matching grant from US Bank and the Minnesota Vikings, will be ready for kids to use when school begins on Sept. 5.
Munson said volunteers worked from 7:45 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. Saturday. The panels were installed and cement poured the following day, he said.
“We’re were done about 5:30 (p.m.) on Sunday, and everything looks good,” he said. “This is a couple years in the making, figuring out what we wanted, and I think this is about perfect, as far as what the kids need.”
Munson said all the materials for the surfacing are sitting in the school parking lot.
“Hopefully we’ll have that in this week, or early next week,” he said. “We’re also looking at having a kick-off on the first day of school.”
Munson said a US Bank representative will be at the school for the kick-off, and the school has been working with the Vikings to get their mascot and perhaps a couple Vikings cheerleaders to the event.
“It’ll be an exciting start of the school year,” he said. “Thank you to all the volunteers who helped.”
Munson also revisited test scores for the board.
He said after making a big jump in math a year ago (9.5%), the slight regression in that subject was normal. Also, the school started a new curriculum in that subject.
“You have a tendency to go backwards a little bit when you start a new curriculum as you get used to it, then you can start moving up form there.”
The school went back 2%, while the overall state average in math regressed 1%, Munson said. He said TAES is .2% below the state average for math.
“I highly anticipate with a couple of tweaks we’ll be back above the state average next year,” he said.
Munson said the school made a 5.3% jump in reading, which put it over the state average. He also highlighted a nearly 20% jump in science.
“Very happy with that,” said Munson, who gave special note to fifth- and sixth-grade science teacher Kelly McConnell for her work.
In other business …
• Anderson said the school district was approved for the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten and School Readiness grant in the amount of $1,753. Also, he said the district’s Achievement and Integration plan for Fiscal Year 2018 was approved. The approved budget amount is $63,356, which will fully fund the district’s transition to kindergarten program for three years. Anderson also pointed out that the district has received a rebate check of $31,694 as part of the LED lighting project.
• The board approved the 2017-18 Early Resignation Notification that will reward staff members to be expedient in letting the school know they’re leaving. There are separate guidelines for teachers and other employees. It does not include paras or other part time employees.
• The board approved MSBA model policy 534 “unpaid meal charges.” This is a state requirement the school must do to let the state know how they work with families who fall behind in lunch payments.
• The board approved the hiring of Anna Sanow as seventh-grade volleyball coach for the 2017 season and Walker Schaar as junior high football coach for the upcoming season.
• The board approved the hiring of Amy Rubin as the secondary student council advisor, Justin Wulf as metals teacher for two periods a day and Stacey Koenig as secondary paraprofessional for the upcoming school year, as well as the resignation of Kelly Hanson as TAPS cook.
• The board also recognized two donation items: The donation from CHS for the TAPS backpack program, and the donation from the Balaton Area Community Foundation to the Balaton Little Panthers for $2,500 for the purchase of supplies.
• The 2017-18 projected enrollment given by Superintendent Anderson was 715, compared to 743 in September 2016 and 736 the year before that. Anderson said last year the district ended the year at 705. He said the school traditionally sees a decline in enrollment throughout the school year, and if that holds true this year, he said, enrollment could drop into the 600s by the end of the 2017-18 school year.